(Lessons from the first (mis)steps following modern Africa’s independence)

Often, all independence did was reveal that the only force that united the self-acclaimed nationalists was their drive to get rid of the oppressors or colonial usurpers. Once that was done, ancient grouses along ethnic, tribal, class, racial and religious lines – and sometimes even more modern ideological ones, like the capitalism-socialism conflict, or the democracy-unilateralism question – bobbed up to the surface and threatened to tear each country apart from within. But largely the cracks were caused by ethnicity, ideology and class, powered by fear and greed, lubricated by corruption, blinded by feelings of messianic grandeur, fortified by an absurd sense of entitlement, in the spirit of vengeance. The foolish belief – of each person, each clan and each group – of being better than the others, and the insistence that one side <em>must</em> rule over the others or there shall be no peace and no progress. One-party states and governments emerged or strove to emerge, ruthlessly crushing opposition endeavours – and since most parties were built around ethnic, class or religious blocs in the first place, this only served to further exacerbate tribal tensions, ethnic hatreds, religious rivalries, group suspicions and ancient racial animosities. Class and wealth exhibited ethnic features. Before long, coups began to occur and dictatorships became the order of the day. And, before Africa knew it, the sixties and seventies had given way to the eighties and the nineties and, all over the continent, Africans were still trying to figure out to whom they owe their political allegiance: to tribe, religion or country? And they still remained and remain unable to move forward unitedly.

Uganda undertook initial tentative steps to reconcile and accommodate the different northern and southern tribes of the nation, amidst flourishing exports and per capita growth, in the spirit of confidence and optimism in the wake of independence. A few years into post-independence, everything broke down when President Obote suspended the National Assembly and introduced a new constitution in which he accorded himself wide and sweeping powers. Here again the cynical African quandary showed its face. Ostensibly in a bid to prevent the tribalisation and factionalisation of national politics, the president centralised power under his command and insisted on a one-party state, thereby unleashing the very destructive and centrifugal forces of inter-sectional chaos and confrontation he had claimed he wanted to prevent. Uganda’s fate was sealed when, in order to secure himself against all internal opposition, Obote relied more and more on the army, under the command of Idi-Amin, the megalomanic self-proclaimed “Conqueror of the British Empire and true heir to the throne of Scotland”, who eventually overthrew his boss. Idi-Amin’s regime ravaged, raped and wrecked Uganda. After Idi-Amin fled in 1979, Obote regained power and Uganda descended into civil war. Here too the mismanagement of the explosive momentum of independence brought decades of death, impoverishment and socio-political disjoint to Uganda.

… continued in Part 8

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6